Why is it so hard to improve performance management systems?

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Why Improving Performance Management Systems Is So Difficult - Part 2

For the first part of this article click here

Summary: Why does it seem like the more companies try to improve their performance management and appraisal systems, the more they stay the same? It's very difficult to improve performance management systems, primarily because the process used to change them is often flawed. Learn how to improve your appraisal system properly so it adds more value for everyone. Part 2 of 2.

Where Did The Employee Go?

What amazes me about many performance management "refurbs" is that the employees are almost entirely ignored throughout the process, although sometimes there is token involvement.

There are four groups of people that need to be on the same wavelength to make performance management work. Executives, managers, usually the human resources department, and employees. All play important roles in this process. So, here's a question. Which group contains the most people? There's a handful of executives, a handful of HR staff, and perhaps more than a handful of managers and supervisors, but there are tons of employees. For performance management to work, it MUST rest on a foundation of cooperation, based on at least the prospect of benefit for all.

Managers need to know and understand why they are doing performance management, and see how it helps them do their jobs more effectively. As importantly, so do employees, or else there will be a perception tha the "new system" is just about as beneficial as the "old system". Which means it isn't seen as useful at all.

If performance management system improvement does not include all four groups, it is likely to fail. All must have input into the process, and usually, all must redevelop their understanding of the purpose and benefits of the process.

Clearly then, the input of employees must be part of the process. But perhaps most importantly is that there must be a conscious effort to explain...no, demonstrate, how this new system is completely different and beneficial to employees.

When Executives "Take A Powder"

Imagine a situation where a division of a company loses several hundred thousands dollars a year, year after year after year. What are the chances that senior executive aren't going to get around to looking at the situation. What are the chances that sustained problems will be microscoped to death where there is signficant financial loss?

It's different with performance management. A company may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars redesigning a performance management system, and more hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and resources using it, with absolutely no return on investment. Do executives notice? Not usually. Many executives use the "fire and forget" notion. Kick things in gear. Make an appearance or two to speak to the troops. Then forget the entire thing.

It's bad enough that most executives have no clue their existing system is a total failure. It's even worse to recognize it, commission a redesign, then do nothing whatsoever to make it work. That virtually guarantees failure. Why?

The logic is simple. Start with the assumption that most people in the organization don't have a clear idea of what the "performance management thing" is for, or could be for. That must change for a viable and successful performance management process to emerge.

Apart from showing commitment to the new system, executives need to shepherd the process. Executives must cascade the system downward, working with their own reports to demonstrate directly how the process should work and will work. In addition to demonstrating it, they must coach their reports so that level of management can continue the cascading process. So, apart from championing the process, executives must:

  • teach it
  • demonstrate it
  • require it
  • monitor it
  • commit to it

Finally...The Role Of Consultants

As a consultant, I believe that reliance on consultants occurs far too frequently, and far too much money is paid to my "brethen". However, when it comes to redesigning a performance management system, I think that the use of an external consultant may be helpful and in some ways essential to creating a viable and effective performance management system.

But not any old consultant. Believe it or not, while consultants should know better, they often start in the wrong place also, assuming things like common understood purpose, and common definitions of what performance management means. Or, some consultants will provide five or six day training to managers so they can undertake the nuts and bolts of the new system. It's all probably wasted.

The fundamental role of an outside consultant should be to begin at the beginning. To help stakeholders define the "thing" to be created, generally through a facilitative process to develop consensus and buy in. As such the consultant must be retained at the beginning, not midway through the process. After this foundation step is finished, there may be additional value to having a consultant available, or to be blunt, there may not be. The reality is that people are smart enough to figure out many of the details internally, once they are clear about where the trip is supposed to take them.

How We Can Help

Unlike most performance management consultants, we don't offer training in the nuts and bolts of performance management. We don't believe in long, dependent relationships between client and consultant. What we do is different. We will help you from the beginning, to define this "thing", it's purposes and why you should be doing it. We'll also help you develop an implementation plan. And then, we go away. Of course, we offer support as needed, but we firmly believe that once you are aimed at the bulls-eye and have a clear idea of how to get there, you can work out the details.

For more information contact us at (613) 764-0241 or via email at ceo@work911.com

For the first part of this article click here


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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We Believe

  • Performance management and appraisal MUST be a partnership between manager and employee where BOTH benefit.
  • Performance management can be the lever for improved employee engagement.
  • The review process is the LEAST important part of performance management
  • If managers aren't managing employee performance, why are they there?

Get in Touch

  • Phone:
    (613) 764-0241
  • Email: ceo@work911.com
  • Address:

  • Bacal & Associates
  • 722 St. Isidore Rd.
  • Casselman
  • Ontario
  • Canada, K0A 1M0